Posted by Lawrence Reddaway
“Let’s appoint a religious atheist, who is an Aussie Rules agnostic, to write up this week’s speaker.”  Your editor handballed it to me – what a fine sense of mischief!
Our speaker was Ray Wilson, who played Aussie Rules Footy for various clubs in the 1960s, including Hawthorn, and including a grand final or two.  He shared a magnificent repertoire of anecdotes about players, coaches and officials who were all well known by repute to almost every person in the room. (Indeed, even I, the curmudgeon with the working pen, had heard of quite a few of them.)  But I won’t waste time trying to report any of the anecdotes –I would surely get at least one detail wrong!

The blurry B&W video of a final from way back in 1971 showed much that was the same as we are seeing in the current finals series:  Skills, fitness, strength, and excessive aggression.  It also showed a deplorable amount of waste paper flying around – at least we seem to have left that deplorable habit behind, thank goodness!

Photo:  Ray Wilson's "bump" on Carl Ditterich in the 1971 Grand Final.
So, in what light do I see the cult of Aussie Rules?  It is spectacular to watch.  But the rates of injury and conflict seem to be grossly excessive.  Maybe the matches are echoes of gladiatorial ‘games’ and of public executions?   Today’s vast crowds are wondrous to behold; and let us rejoice that crowd violence seems to be much less than in many other sports.
Footy provides a real sense of community, and of belonging, to thousands of fans of particular clubs. It raises hopes and expectations – sometimes to be realised, and other times as false hopes.  For how many fans does Footy provide a weekly escape from otherwise ordinary lives?
The fact that every newspaper devotes many pages every day to Aussie Rules is presumably evidence of the huge love of the populace for this feature of our lives.  If our society can afford so many huge temples (footy grounds) and so many very highly paid bureaucrats and stars, then surely we should be able to afford more generous treatment of the poor in our midst?  Surely, also, the passionate allegiance of some individuals, and some families, to a particular team, and regular attendance, can be seen as a form of religious devotion?
Enough, lest I be drummed out of Rotary for discussing religion!
The URL for the 1971 Grand Final is:  
President Ian has put the clip of Ray’s “bump” on Ditterich in Dropbox: